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Shifting tectonic plates in Eastern Christianity

ROME. While Synod-2018 was trying to grasp the polyhedron-like character of “synodality” and wrestling with the differences among sexual inclination, sexual orientation, and sexual attraction, tectonic plates were shifting beneath the surface of world Christianity. Like similar shifts in geology, which can produce tsunamis and earthquakes, dramatic movement in the underlying structures of ecclesiastical life can lead to great historical consequences. The recent decision by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to grant autocephaly to a unified Ukrainian Orthodox Church—which would mean that church’s independence from the Russian Orthodox Moscow patriarchate—is precisely such a dramatic, tectonic shift, perhaps the greatest in Eastern Christianity since Constantinople and Rome formally severed full communion in 1054.

This is, then, a Very Big Deal. That it got virtually no attention during Synod-2018, either inside the Synod hall or in the Synod’s “Off-Broadway” conversations, says something (not altogether edifying) about the self-absorption of Catholicism as it continues its seemingly endless wrestling with the ethics of human love, the exercise of authority in the Church, and a raft of sexual and financial scandals. But one Synod father was paying close attention to what was afoot 2,300 kilometers northeast of here, and that was the ever-more-impressive Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major-Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches that are Byzantine in liturgy and polity but in full communion with Rome.

Many commentators, including your scribe, have viewed what may be the impending independence of Ukrainian Orthodoxy in terms of its potential to derail Vladimir Putin’s attempts to recreate a simulacrum of the old Soviet Union in the name of a historic “Russian space” (Russkie mir). Others, your scribe again included, have speculated on what Ukrainian Orthodox autocephaly would mean for ecumenical relations. Vatican ecumenists have bet most if not all their chips on Russian Orthodoxy as the “lead Church” in Eastern Christianity. That position will become even more untenable if Russian Orthodoxy loses a considerable proportion of its parishes and congregants to an independent Ukrainian Orthodoxy recognized as such by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, first among equals in the Orthodox world.

Read more at First Things. 

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